The Artist and the Historian


It is not the first time Canberra award-winning artist and gallery owner, Margaret Hadfield (Zorgdrager) and Canberra author Kathryn Spurling, have been accused of undertaking the unusual. Their friendship was cemented by a mutual fascination with military history, not normally the bastion of women, to produce art, books and lectures – commonly featuring the underdog.

Margaret was born in Coonabarabran to Dutch parents and was inspired to paint by the surrounding Warrumbungle Range. She sold her first painting at age 13 and has been a professional artist and art teacher in the Canberra region for the greater part of her life. A visit to Gallipoli in 2004 changed her creative direction. It is a beautiful and quiet place with a tragic past and the landscape and its history inspired her to explore the two together. She went on to be the inaugural winner of the Gallipoli Military Art Prize and has been consistently a highly-commended finalist. The Gallipoli Club, Sydney, has two of her paintings, her winning entry ‘Ataturk’s Legacy’; and her emotive oil on canvas, ‘God Only Knows’.

Six of her Gallipoli paintings have been exhibited by the Australian Government in The Hague; Cannakkale, Turkey; and the Victoria School, Villers Bretonneux, France. The National Maritime Museum purchased her painting of the 2013 RAN Fleet entry. She was most recently commissioned to paint a portrait of Sir John Monash for the ACT Jewish Memorial Centre. Margaret was also selected in 2018 for the Biennale of Australian Art in Ballarat in September to paint an eight-metre mural depicting the ‘Great Australian Landscape’.

Rescuing Australian Art Pieces, one piece at a time…

Click the image below to listen to the interview.

Kathryn Spurling served with the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service. Her father served in the RAAF, and a brother in the Army so the military way was deeply imbued. After gaining her PhD in Military history she tutored and guest lectured at UNSW@ADFA until 2011. She was the first Australian summer fellow at the United States Military Academy (Westpoint) and the first Australian invited to speak at NATO, Brussels, on women in the military. Kathryn is the author of seven books. Meeting Margaret Hadfield led to joint adventures and projects and Margaret expanding her military series of paintings to 24 also featuring WWII.

Margaret painted the cover of Kathryn’s book, The Mystery of AE1: Australia’s Lost Submarine and Crew and illustrations for her book A Grave Too Far Away: a tribute to Australians in Bomber Command Europe. Margaret also painted the portraits of the six Inspiring Australian Women for Kathryn’s book of the same name. Kathryn’s most recent book: Fire at Sea: HMAS Westralia 1998 was launched by the ACT Minister for Veterans and Seniors, Gordon Ramsay, in April. Kathryn is currently an Adjunct Research Associate with Flinders University, Adelaide which allows her to continue living in Canberra, not only because she loves the city’s atmosphere but there is no better place for a historian.

Margaret and Kathryn’s mutual love of art, history and the underdog has led to their latest undertaking, another unusual one. They noticed quality paintings by very talented artists; depictions of Australian landscape, life, flora, fauna, and culture, being discarded as unfashionable. Australia’s heritage highlighted by the amazing talents of artistic visionaries. It felt the right thing to re-discover and recycle these works of art. It has been rewarding to see the original paintings in a new light once they are cleaned; frames are replaced or repaired with environmentally sensitive materials. Some doubted their wisdom given the current retail climate, in launching to highlight these amazing paintings for the appreciation of a new discerning audiences. This enterprise grew with the discovery of another unfashionable genre, indigenous and tribal Artifacts. The craftsmanship carved into wood, stone and metal and woven into beautiful handmade baskets from around the world needed to be treasured by new generations. And new generations and older ones are now appreciating not only the creativity of handcrafted art but the need to recycle and save!

The new venture has continued to grow and beyond the bounds of the Canberra region as they began to pick their way through small towns and large, salvaging works of art – saving the very culture of their nation. The journey is being filmed with exerts intended for their Artistic Vision Gallery website and perhaps just something larger. Margaret wanted to call the series The Two Fat Ladies of Art but Kathryn objected, so the title became The Artist and The Historian. They don’t pretend to be anything but what they are – two rather mature women intent on convincing everyone to hang Aussie original art on their walls, to find joy in handmade, wonderfully crafted indigenous and tribal Artifacts and to recycle and save!